Kelley Johnson

I still can’t believe it. Years of professional instruction in suicide and youth depression, countless hours counseling others through pain and trauma, certification in programs detailing warning signs, prevention protocols, and statistical trends—all had trained me to see what others can’t, to recognize what is hidden behind the mask of depression. I am a seasoned clinical expert in suicide prevention with a real passion to end this silent epidemic. And I missed it.

I’d be lying if I said this didn’t rock me to my core. For months after Johnny’s death, I woke up each morning wondering how on earth I missed it. I was supposed to be the one to save him. I knew all the signs. His death must be my fault.

I had watched others lose their children, husbands, wives, and friends to this disease—and I had counseled them through their own unspeakable pain and questions of “How did I miss it?” My answer was always the same: “You couldn’t have known. They chose not to show you how they were really feeling. You cannot own the things you did not know to look for.”

But those answers didn’t apply to me. I was an expert. This shouldn’t have happened on my watch. I had failed. And I had no business helping anyone if I couldn’t help those closest to me.

I allowed those words to dig deep into my heart and soul. I let them steal my hope and destroy my dreams of making a real difference for those afflicted with this disease. I was devastated, and I felt entirely responsible for the decision my friend had made to end his life.

Many people walked away from our friendship or kept their distance because they didn’t know how to handle the pain. Other people ignored the situation entirely. But a few precious friends reminded me that my self-blame was missing one important detail: I simply was not that powerful; I was not God.

Some lessons are painful to learn.



In the midst of self-pity and self-inflicted guilt, I left God out of the mix. I thought I knew everything I needed to know to help anyone who was contemplating suicide. I forgot my humanity and my limitations. Without God’s help, I was hopeless and helpless to find my way through the darkness.

We cannot survive the despair of suicidal thoughts or the aftermath of losing someone we love without the light of Christ wrapping us tightly and carrying the unbearable agony for us. Invite God into your pain: God, I need you. I am struggling to find my way. Lead me to those who can help me. Allow me to see your light in some small way. What I feel is overwhelming; I can’t handle it on my own. You are my refuge. Give me faith to trust you when I cannot see a way out. Help me to see you, Lord. Amen.

If you suspect that someone is struggling, tell an adult you trust. If you are struggling and can’t see the light of hope, reach out and tell someone. You are loved deeply, and you are meant to survive—perhaps to be the light for someone else. Call Lifeline (USA) at 1-800-273-8255 or text SIGNS to 741741 for free 24/7 anonymous crisis counseling.

Learn more about how to recognize the signs of suicidal behavior:


+  The Jason Foundation

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Kelley Johnson is a Certified Pastoral Counselor who specializes in suicide prevention and youth counseling. She also raises two children, coaches a travel softball team, freelances as a graphic designer, and dreams of one day hugging a real live red panda. (

—from devozine (September/October 2019). Copyright © 2019 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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